The Manchester heat of The Chivas Masters brought some of the most creative bartenders in the North West to Under New Management, Salford, for this newly launched global cocktail competition celebrating the quality and versatility of Chivas Regal whisky. Seven competitors were challenged to create cocktails from four significant eras in Chivas Regal’s heritage – The Classic Age (1880-1920) when the brand was first born; The Post War Boom (1945-1965), when Chivas 12 appeared on the scene; The Disco Years (1975-1990), often seen as the dark ages of cocktails, though in this time the brand became truly iconic, and the present day: The Age of Revivalism, in which Chivas continues to grow as a timeless, luxurious brand worldwide.
A number of the competitors were Manchester-based: Adam Binnersley, from Under New Management; Andy Knapper, from The Liquor Store; Amir Javaid, from Epernay, and Danny ‘Biggsy’ Bigg-Wither, also from The Liquor Store. Other entrants had travelled from further afield, such as Jules Van Dyke, from Voodoo Moon in Wrexham; Joe Wild, from Jenny’s Bar in Liverpool, and Jake Murphy from 81 LTD, also in Liverpool. Judging the competition were Phil Huckle, Chivas Regal Brand Ambassador, Jonathan Varetto of Pernod Ricard, and Gary Sharpen of The Cocktail Lovers.
Kicking things off was Adam Binnersley, who, on his home turf at Under New Management, told us that he had focused on simple, classic drinks with enduring flavours. His first cocktail, based on The Classic Age, was the delicate Mash House Flip, in which the Chivas shone through, lightened and lifted by the bitterness of a Goose Island pale ale reduction and zesty grapefruit bitters.
Moving to The Post War Boom, Adam’s next cocktail was The Showgirl, inspired by his grandad’s admiration of Marilyn Monroe who, according to Grandpa Binnersley, “looks like a lady who’d drink whisky”. Featuring Chivas alongside Angostura bitters, Beefeater Gin and Lillet Rouge, The Showgirl was heavy, fruity, and elegant.
Next, we came to The Disco Years, a time of ‘Del Boy’ drinks – gaudy, tacky, sticky monstrosities. However, the Eighties did bring us Buck’s Fizz, and Adam’s updated version comprised a Perrier-Jouet cordial, Chivas, orange bitters and zest. In stark contrast to the previous cocktail, this was light, zesty, and fresh.
Adam’s last cocktail, from The Age of Revivalism, is the Royal Breakfast; his own twist on the Breakfast Martini, using Chivas, lemon juice, lemon curd, and thyme. The butteriness of the lemon curd gave it a rich yet light mouthfeel, and the thyme brought an element of sophistication, but in this cocktail, the Chivas was the star.
The second competitor was Jules Van Dyke, from Voodoo Moon in Wrexham. Unlike Adam, Jules revelled in creating elaborate serves, starting with his Classic Age cocktail, the Chivas Blazer. With his presentation involving an open burner, a vintage metal teapot, and pouring flaming liquid, this combination of Chivas, orange bitters, and gunpowder tea infused with vanilla and honey was garnished with an orange twist and tasted warming, bitter, and strong.
For The Post War Boom, Jules produced The Chancellor and the Bulldog, using Chivas, Taylor’s Port, chocolate bitters, and syrup infused with demerara sugar and a Romeo y Julieta cigar. A cocktail for Churchill, Jules lit the chancellor’s favourite brand of cigar and allowed the smoke to billow into the glass before the cocktail was served, infusing it with wood and vanilla notes. Predominant brown sugar notes mingled with the smokiness, and brought out a honeyed spice in the Chivas.
The Disco Years brought with them Whisky and Soda, a nightmare of cream soda, Blue Curacao, Chivas, glitter syrup, and bubblegum mist, rimmed with bright pink orange-flavoured sugar. A tongue-in-cheek homage to the cheese and glitz of the disco years, the orange of the Blue Curacao stopped the cream soda from becoming cloying, which allowed the Chivas to remain surprisingly prominent.
For The Age of Revivalism, another elaborate serve, featuring Chivas, Lochan Ora and Amer Picon, and topped with a dulce de leche and champagne foam, plus a spritz of edible gold spray. McGregor’s Highland Walk was served next to a pot of heather, to which cut grass and heather essences were added. Hot water was poured over the heather to release the aromas, and a flask of Oxtail soup was also served alongside.
Next up was Andy Knapper, from The Liquor Store. His Classic Age cocktail was the Chivas Crusta. Swapping out the traditional brandy for Chivas, the focus of this vintage cocktail is the garnish, a carefully hollowed out whole mid-section of lemon nestled inside the sugar-rimmed glass. This enhanced the tart, refreshing flavour and hearkened back to the showmanship of the era.
For The Post War Boom, Andy made a Chivas Negroni, using Chivas, Campari, and Antica Formula. Garnished with both an orange and a lemon twist, it was bitter, zesty, and boozy, with the Chivas taking the place of gin admirably.
Andy’s cocktail from The Disco Years was the Strathisla Lemonade, a grown-up twist on the Eighties classic. It was presented with a big twist of lemon garnish, cherries, a sparkler, and glow sticks, all served in a hurricane glass. Despite looking like the worst type of disco drink, the Chivas updated the flavour profile, resulting in a rather sippable cocktail.
Last, The Age of Revivalism gave us Blood and Sand Remastered, a molecular version of the vintage cocktail. Chivas, Cherry Heering, Antica Formula and orange bitters were topped with a marvellous blood orange foam, creating a hugely aromatic and impressive-looking new twist.
At the half way point, the fourth competitor was Amir Javaid from Epernay. Starting with the Regal Classic, his cocktail for The Classic Age, Amir showcased a smoky creation, using smoked hickory syrup and Cherry Heering to reveal a different, oaky side to the Chivas. The Regal Classic was served alongside beef jerky to emphasise the smoky profile.
Amir’s Post War Boom cocktail was Come Fly With Me, a Tiki-inspired creation. This fresh-tasting cocktail featured banana liqueur, Chivas, pineapple juice and lemon, and was served in a Tiki mug and garnished with a pineapple leaf and large slice of pineapple.
For The Disco Years, we were presented with Disco Baby. Chivas, Vimto liqueur, cranberry juice and Monin Framboise combined to make a startlingly coloured cocktail, garnished with a purple glow stick arched over the glass, jelly babies, and edible glitter. Very kitsch and clubby; you could really taste the Vimto.
Amir’s last cocktail for The Age of Revivalism was the Old Fashioned 1801. For this cocktail, he infused the Chivas with chocolate, before combining it with salted caramel syrup and walnut bitters, and spritzing sea salt air over the top. This was served alongside toffee popcorn. The Chivas took the sweetness out of the caramel and chocolate flavours, making this a complex and elegant cocktail.
The fifth to compete was Danny Bigg-Wither, better known as Biggsy, another competitor from The Liquor Store. Embracing the opportunity to put on a show and celebrate Chivas Regal’s heritage, he took the floor resplendent in a tartan Tam o’ Shanter, with his face painted in the colours of the Scottish flag, and queued up a song which epitomises Scotland to many of us – ‘500 Miles’, by The Proclaimers. His cocktail from The Classic Age, Chivalry Ain’t Dead, was a Flip using Chivas and Cherry Heering, served with a cherry. Simple and straight-forward, the whisky played a subtle role in this cocktail.
For The Post War Boom, he made the Swing Easy, inspired by a Rusty Nail: Chivas and Drambuie combined with fresh plums, honey, and orange bitters. In this cocktail, the fruity, honeyed notes of Chivas really came into their own, and the plums added a fresh, light flavour.
Another Tiki-inspired cocktail, this time for The Disco Years. Chivas Me Timbers was created to highlight the tackiness of the dark ages of cocktails. Chivas was added to a concoction of Irn Bru, apricot liqueur and pineapple juice, which was served with a huge wedge of pineapple, and alongside the rest of the can of Irn Bru. The colour of bright peach and actually quite light and refreshing; it wasn’t as awful as it sounds.
Biggsy’s last cocktail for The Age of Revivalism was The Highlander, a modern twist on an Old Fashioned. Featuring Chivas, vanilla, Licor 43, orange bitters and angostura bitters, it was served along a Highland Toffee Bar; a tongue-in-cheek nod to all things Scottish which complimented the vanilla notes of the cocktail.
Representing Jenny’s Bar in Liverpool, Joe Wild stayed true to history with his cocktail from The Classic Age. Using only ‘exotic’ ingredients which the Chivas brothers would have stocked in their shop to supply to the wealthy, The Bowl of Balmoral consisted of Chivas, coffee, a vanilla pod, lemon juice, and a warming pineapple and cumin syrup. Served with a single, oversized ice block for historical authenticity, this Punch was tart, yet balanced by the vanilla sweetness. The subtle spice of the cumin and the roast character from the coffee added a depth and maturity to the profile.
The Post War Boom cocktail was titled Let’s All Be Rational, and took elaborate presentation to the next level. Joe handed out cocktail specs printed in the style of ration books, and served his Flip – featuring goose fat washed Chivas, port, and sugar syrup – in a plant pot, with a plant which cleverly slotted in to the top of the pot, allowing the cocktail to be sipped through a straw. Not finished yet, Joe tapped into the ‘Dig For Victory’ spirit and placed the plant pot in an ‘allotment’ of carrot cake earth, complete with model chickens and pig, and a crop of rosebuds. The goose washed Chivas had an interesting mouth feel, and took some of the sweetness out of the port.
Next up, The Disco Years gave us the Wall Bangin’ Brew. Channelling a kitschy, American surfer vibe, this combination of Chivas, Grand Marnier, and bitters was served in a VW camper van novelty mug, alongside a spoon set with white chocolate, vanilla extract, and star anise, which was to be stirred into the cocktail as you drank it. Strongly boozy and complex, the star anise and orange combined on the palate and played with the fruity notes of the Chivas.
For The Age of Revivalism, Joe created The Master Blender by taking elements of the previous three cocktails, and combining them with a modern twist. He combined Chivas with the cumin and pineapple syrup from The Bowl of Balmoral, egg white from Let’s All Be Rational and the Grand Marnier from the Wall Bangin’ Brew, creating a fresh, zesty, creamy cocktail with a citrusy yet subtly spiced character.
The last competitor of the day was also from Liverpool: Jake Murphy, from 81 LTD. His Classic Age cocktail, 13 King Street, was named for where the Chivas brothers had their shop. This Blazer was concocted from Chivas, a vanilla and Pernod syrup, and Jerry Thomas bitters, and was served with a smoked cinnamon stick to create a drink which was warming, sweet, spiced and well-rounded.
For The Post War Boom, Jake brought us his exuberantly named Chivalamagoodstuff. With Chivas, Green Chartreuse, lemon juice, and a blend of Benedictine, orange juice and herbs, this digestif-esque cocktail was herbal, savoury, and intriguing.
A Dance with the Moonlit Knight, named after the Genesis song, was Jake’s Disco Years cocktail. Combining almond milk, Chivas, Cacao, and mint bitters, and garnished with a mint leaf covered in cocoa extract and almond essence, the milky green colour was indeed very Eighties. It tasted like alcoholic After Eights; perhaps one for the Christmas season.
The last cocktail of the day was The Night on the Narrow Place, for The Age of Revivalism. Featuring Chivas, nettle bitters, honey and apricot jam, plum liqueur and a fiery ginger foam containing whisky and fruit punch, Jake’s aim was to create a drink to appeal to both cocktail newcomers and expert palates. Fruity, with a big honeyed Chivas profile, this offering was accessible but in no way simplistic.
Towards the end of the competition I got to chat to Phil Huckle, Chivas Regal Brand Ambassador and one of the judges. “This is a hard competition to be part of,” he told me, “as it challenges the competitor’s knowledge of cocktail history, as well as testing their skill and creativity in showcasing Chivas Regal’s versatility. The quality of competition is very high, and we’ve seen lots of hard work and originality, with bartenders making their own liqueurs and reductions. It shows how far the industry has come over the years, and, of course, the inclusion of The Disco Years adds a sense of fun.”
But now to the important bit: who won? The judges were so impressed by the level of talent on show that they decided to put two contestants through to the UK final. Jake Murphy of 81 LTD was the winner, with Jules Van Dyke of Voodoo Moon coming in second. An honourable mention was given to Adam Binnersley from Under New Management, who took third place. Jake and Jules will both be going to London to compete against the best bartenders from around the UK, before the winner of the UK final will jet off to New York for the global final.
The Chivas Masters Manchester heat was a fascinating competition to watch, especially with regards to the sheer variety of styles and flavour profiles used by the bartenders. It highlighted just how versatile Chivas 12 is; if I had tasted a selection of these cocktails blind, I may not have even twigged that the Swing Easy was using the same core whisky as the McGregor’s Highland Walk. Oh, and my personal favourite cocktail of the competition? That would be Joe Wild’s The Bowl of Balmoral historical Punch.
The best of luck to Jake and Jules in London, I’m sure you’ll do the North West proud. Cheers!
The Classic Age: 13 King Street
Vanilla and Pernod syrup
Jerry Thomas bitters
A smoked cinnamon stick
The Post War Boom: Chivalamagoodstuff
A mix of Benedictine, orange juice, and herbs
The Disco Years: A Dance with the Moonlit Knight
A mint leaf covered in cocoa extract and almond essence
The Age of Revivalism: The Night on the Narrow Place
Honey and apricot jam
Ginger foam containing whisky and fruit punch
A duck egg and apricot garnish
The Classic Age: Chivas Blazer
Gunpowder tea infused with vanilla and honey
An orange twist
The Post War Boom: The Chancellor and the Bulldog
Sugar infused with demerara sugar and a Romeo y Julieta cigar
Served with a cigar
The Disco Years: Whisky and Soda
Pink orange-flavoured sugar-rimmed
The Age of Revivalism: McGregor’s Highland Walk
Dulce de leche and champagne foam
Edible gold spray
Served with heather and Oxtail soup